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First case of COVID-19 in Valdez involves seafood industry worker from out of state

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A seafood industry worker is the first person to test positive for COVID-19 in Valdez, officials said Friday.

The worker, an employee of Peter Pan Seafoods, hasn’t shown symptoms of the virus and is not an Alaska resident, the Valdez Unified Command announced Friday night.

"The patient was identified as part of a routine employer screening put in place specifically to protect their workforce and our community,” Dr. Angela Alfaro, physician consultant to the Valdez Unified Command, said in a statement.

Public health officials launched a contact investigation after the positive test result. An initial investigation determined that the worker had stayed only on the Peter Pan Seafoods campus while in Valdez.

The worker quarantined for two weeks when they arrived to Alaska in late April, said Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state’s health department. She said it’s not clear whether the worker picked up the virus locally or if the test indicates an infection in the past with residual virus.

The worker will remain in isolation, according to the announcement, and Peter Pan Seafoods will start disinfecting the areas where the worker was living and working.

The employee was residing in private quarters, said Dale Schiffler, director of administration at Peter Pan Seafoods. “We are anticipating retesting the employee and anyone he’s been in contact with as soon as possible,” Schiffler said.

Officials said that “several” close contacts of the worker are now quarantining.

Alaska cases reported by residency

“Public health officials believe the current risk to Valdez is low due to screening and containment of this asymptomatic patient,” the Valdez Unified Command said. “However, based upon other communities’ experiences, additional cases may surface in Valdez in the future.”

Valdez Mayor Jeremy O’Neill praised the community’s efforts throughout the pandemic and asked that they continue to keep up physical distancing and enhanced hygiene, and wear cloth face coverings.

In total, eight nonresident seafood industry workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Alaska, including a Trident Seafoods worker in Dillingham and an Ocean Beauty Seafoods worker in Cordova.

Two Wasilla residents also tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, as well as a person who lives in the Northwest Arctic Borough. It marks the second case reported among Northwest Arctic Borough residents; the state said those two individuals live in different villages. Radio station KOTZ reported that the second resident to test positive was in Anchorage at the time.

Through Friday night, 408 Alaska residents have tested positive for COVID-19, 358 of whom are considered recovered. The deaths of 10 Alaskans have been tied to the virus, including some who were out of state at the time.

COVID-19 cases reported by the state reflect a person’s residency, which doesn’t necessarily mean that is where a person became sick or was tested.

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